Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Toxic Relationships

By Dacia Moore, Licensed Professional Counselor

I am reading a book this summer entitled Toxic Relationships by Dr. Clinton W. McLemore.  It is an in- depth look at styles of communication and how some patterns of interaction can be more hurtful then helpful.  According to the author, “toxic relationships leave you feeling gray inside and sometimes sick.  They may prompt you to get down on yourself or become angry at the world.”

 So many of our program participants are dealing with toxic relationships.  Here at Community LINC, we try to show them a different way of interacting with others and with the world.  And to me, that is one of the major challenges that we address in the mental wellness health department. We help our residents become less “toxic” and learn to identify a potentially toxic relationship early on.  We even discuss how a family member or a spouse can be toxic and how to manage that relationship.

One example is a client that I am working with in the aftercare program. Ms. C appears to be married to a toxic man.  When she doesn’t do as he commands or drop everything and give him her full attention, he ridicules her, tells her she is a bad wife and a terrible Christian. He calls out her name and embarrasses her in front of her children.  As a result, Ms. C gets so upset and stressed out that she goes to work late, if at all, and has become physically ill on more than one occasion. 

As the Aftercare Therapist, my job is to help her, and all of our aftercare clients, to think more rationally so that they don’t make an emotional decision that leads them back down the path to homelessness. When you are in a toxic relationship like Ms. C that is a real possibility.  Ms. C and I have a good relationship and she now calls me right after an incident so I can help her calm down, think clearly and make good decisions for her future. She is not ready to leave this toxic relationship yet, so, I will help her navigate through her difficulties until (if ever) she is.

Toxic relationships are everywhere and our residents seem to struggle with them more often than most.  That is why the mental wellness health and aftercare components of our program are so important.  They help our clients identify when they are getting close to a toxic situation, and teach them tools to use for self-calming and self-care so they can continue their upward progress towards permanent housing and a good life.

Ms. C is doing better now, but still needs help (don’t we all!).  Thank goodness for a community of caring people who work with our clients at each step of our program to show them a different way of doing things that is not TOXIC!!! 

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Supporting Our Families Through Complex Trauma.

By Griselda Williams, Mental Wellness Manager

I recently read an article from the National Child Traumatic Stress Network. The article explored Complex Trauma in adults and children who have experienced homelessness. Complex Trauma was identified as “exposure to multiple traumatic events, often of an invasive interpersonal nature”, i.e. physical, sexual and emotional abuse, neglect, community and domestic violence. The article lists things to look for in parents who are traumatized when they enter a shelter or housing assistance program:
  •  Easily overwhelmed, irritated, or withdrawn
  • May suddenly “fly off the handle” or “shut down” (called numbing emotions)
  • May be disorganized in thought or speech or have trouble remembering detail, completing parenting tasks, attending appointments and/or following through on requests
  • Difficulty separating emotions from those of their children and may have difficulty providing what their children need, like a sense of safety and structure
  • May lack knowledge of appropriate developmental stages in their children
  • Repeated trauma may impair the ability to be open to participation in available services
 Focusing on the parent reactions due to trauma is helpful for me as a mental health provider. This list helps me remember that if a parent does not appear to engage with staff right away, the impact may be a result of trauma. When the parent appears too anxious to focus on tasks or regularly forgets appointments or action steps related to goals, the impact of trauma may be the barrier. Sometimes we as staff may think that a parent does not want to engage in our program but what may really be impacting them is their traumatic event history. If we think back to a really traumatic time in our lives, i.e. the death of a loved one, job loss, an assault or divorce , we may have had a difficult time focusing, or we may appear withdrawn to others. Perhaps we had a difficult time returning to work after the trauma or we engaged in behaviors that were not supportive to us at the time. It was probably difficult to function well but given that we were responding from a “trauma point of view” we too may have reacted as the parent we see in our program. The authors of the article had recommendations for those of us in the helping field:
  •  Work with families to enhance a sense of safety
  • Take time to build trust
  • Listen without judgement
  • End policies that have unintended negative consequences
  • Adopt a harm-reduction approach
 The article suggested that we remember that traumatic experiences may make it difficult for our families to form trusting relationships in a brief amount of time. How many times have we as staff remarked that it took a parent a few months to fully engage in our program, develop trusting relationships and move forward on goals. The great thing is the parent was able to do so, once they felt safe in the village and felt that staff were here to support them not hurt them.